In a presentation that I attended last week Dr. Mustafa Hirji, the acting chief medical officer of health for Niagara Region, shared a number of important messages regarding the future of COVID and how we need to adjust to deal with it and future viruses.
I thought they would be of interest to our community.
While we have made progress in mitigating the serious health effects of COVID -19, it is here to stay and we need to be creative in finding ways to live with it and other contagious viruses. There are lessons from the past that may be helpful.
COVID is the third-leading cause of death in Canada, behind heart disease and cancer, and much more lethal than the flu, which is ranked seventh.
While current infection rates and deaths are not at the highest levels, the cases of infections and death are increasing, due to a number of factors.
There are new variants and the medications to treat them are not as effective as they were on earlier strains.
Complicating matters further, the populace believes that “it is over” and people are tired of restrictions and wearing masks, leading to carelessness and growth in cases.
As well, people are gathering in large groups, attending cinemas, concerts and family and other events, without the most basic of protection – the facial mask.
Our health care system continues under pressure and is diminished in its ability to treat not only COVID but other diseases plus normal medical needs and services.
Hospital rooms, and at times, even entire departments, are being closed due to staff shortages caused by both burnout and the disease itself.
Not only is the presence of the virus affecting health care, but it has a negative impact on the economy, with not enough workers to staff numerous businesses and service organizations.
Creative solutions are needed for us as a society to move forward. Two in particular are of note.
The first, improving the circulation and cleaning of air in offices, work environments, schools and wherever people meet in numbers.
The lesson for this comes from the early 1900s where implementing sanitation measures, clean water supplies and sewage removal and treatment, led to a substantial and noticeable decline in illness and death.
We know from tracking carbon dioxide levels when we are in closed spaces that levels increase over time. COVID particles in the air behave in the same way.
To mitigate the presence of the virus droplets, new air-handling systems to refresh and clean the air need to be installed in all buildings, much like plumbing and sewage removal systems were implemented in the early 1900s.
New building codes and regulations would solidify the importance of improving the quality of the air we breathe and would reduce the presence of contagious viruses.
A second approach is to minimize the transfer of viruses by encouraging sick people who are contagious to stay at home until they are well.
Many, particularly those who earn lower wages or salaries, cannot afford to do that. The solution is to compensate them for lost time when the virus is contagious, recognizing that by staying home the individual is not spreading the disease and is contributing to the safety and good health of fellow workers.
COVID-19, its variants and other viruses are here to stay. We need to adjust to this new reality, recognize the risks involved, and search for solutions that will enable us to return to more of a pre- COVID life.